I have a delicious destination wedding to share with you today, written by Smashing The Glass reader, Mike (yes, I’m proud to say that a plethora of grooms read and love STG too!). He’s written a beautifully detailed account of his marriage to Michal, and his report is LONG, there’s no denying it but it’s well worth a read.
Mike and Michal were invested in the meaning, the spirit, and the energy of the wedding weekend as opposed to the decor (although there are plenty of cool creative details too) so there are many ‘planning nuggets’ and some really great advice throughout.
Their wedding theme was simply ‘us’, and it’s clear to see that they threw themselves into every facet of their wedding (and by their own admission, Mike was more your “typical bride” than your “typical guy”!). Whether it was their late-night welcome bag Photoshop design session, the 10-page ceremony program explaining each aspect and its personal meaning (LOVE this), or the endless communication with their talented Ketubah artist in Israel, everything was their unique creation. Even Michal’s engagement ring was meticulously designed by Mike using family heirlooms, with every detail of the ring telling a story.
At the end of their wedding weekend, as guests headed home, they left Michal and Mike with two of the greatest compliments they could have asked for – “that was the most meaningful wedding I’ve ever attended”, and “I’m only going to Jewish weddings from here on out…”
Now d’you see why this Jewish wedding is a must-read? With thanks to Trevor Dayley Photography for capturing all the memories so beautifully… Enjoy!
Choosing to get married in Arizona
Mike, the Groom: Being two Canadians living in San Francisco, with family and friends dispersed around the globe, we quickly learned there was no “local” option for our wedding. Whether we wed in Michal’s hometown of Toronto, or in the place we now called home, San Francisco, 80% of our guests would be flying in.
Once the reality set in that our wedding was going to be a destination wedding no matter what, we embraced it and broadened our search, keeping in mind somewhere that would be easy to fly to and that was family friendly. We had both always dreamed of getting married outdoors, and the 299 days of sunshine in Arizona seemed a good bet.
We had visited Fairmont Scottsdale Princess together a year before, and Michal had visited many times prior – once with her parents, once with her best friend, and once for a surprise proposal for another close friend; the place held a special place in her heart, and once our search wasn’t limited to Toronto and San Francisco any longer, I think she secretly knew – or at least hoped – this is where we would get married.
There is something magical about Fairmont Scottsdale Princess – the grounds are set up in such a way that really make it the perfect place for a wedding weekend, where friends and family can come together as a community for a simcha, and really enjoy each other’s company. Michal always wanted a wedding “weekend” where we could together celebrate the lead up to our wedding day and have quality time with all of our guests, and the idea of everyone being fully present and focused on the simcha – everyone essentially on vacation together – was the best arrangement to set the tone of togetherness.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess made our wedding the best weekend with all of our loved ones, and it was extra meaningful as it was somewhere we knew could come back for years in the future, to celebrate anniversaries, and someday bring our kids to show them to place we got married.
A wedding that very much reflected ‘us’
What made our wedding “us” was the infusion of Jewish traditions that were meaningful to us, the sense of welcome and hospitality that encompassed the entire planning and the wedding weekend, and the fun-loving spirit that you could almost grasp onto, it was so strong. We were more invested in the meaning, the spirit, and the energy of the wedding weekend than the decor. We were fortunate to have the stunning landscape and outdoor string lights at the resort as a beautiful canvas. We tied in aspects we were excited about like the candy bar and late night snacks to make the evening more reflective of us.
From the start of the planning with our very personalised and perhaps overly-detailed wedding website (seeyouinscottsdale.com), we expressed our keen interest in a sense of hospitality shining through all aspects of our wedding weekend.
We spent hours ensuring our wedding website allowed for ease of planning and travel to our simcha, and communicated to our guests that the greatest gift they could give us was their presence at our wedding as what was most important to us on our wedding day was being surrounded by those we loved.
From the design of our invitations, welcome bags, ceremony programs, table cards, honey jar labels, to our Ketubah, everything was a reflection of us as individuals and a couple. Everything had meaning, and everything had personal touch. Michal was insistent from the beginning of us writing welcome notes to each of our guests, to remind them of how meaningful their presence at our wedding was to us, and it was one of the most fun activities we did together, leading up to the wedding, writing those hand-written notes.
We loved incorporating so many Jewish traditions into our wedding – like the tisch and badeken – and it was important to us that everything was understood, and felt welcoming. This inspired our writing of the “Everything I need to know about a Jewish wedding, I learned from this welcome bag insert ” card, which was included in our welcome bags.
With us both being very creative, organised and hands-on people, we were excited to plan all the details of the wedding together. That being said, we wanted to ensure that we could be fully present and enjoy the company of our guests once we arrived in Scottsdale, Arizona, and not be occupied with planning or organising once our guests arrived. So we both agreed a day-of wedding coordinator to handle the logistics and the behind-the-scenes was the right decision and hiring Meren with SLIC (Some Like It Classic) was a key decision we made in the planning process that allowed us to enjoy every moment of our wedding weekend.
We knew we wanted our invitations to set the tone for our wedding with the outdoor feel, with both Hebrew and English tied-in, Michal’s favourite Hebrew quote (which she had written at the end of the scrapbook that she gave Mike for their first dating anniversary), fairly traditional in verbiage.
We found Judy (itcoa) an artist on Etsy that could do this for us, and also work to later tie in the design to our ceremony programms. What Michal loved most about this artist’s sample design, was the reply card quote she happened upon which said, “A celebration becomes a simcha when shared with family and friends.” Realising that our wedding was a destination wedding and also only six months’ away, we decided to use an online RSVP (password-protected Google Form), that was linked to our website, with codes listed on the reply cards.
A gorgeous handmade ‘Family Tree’
We found some great ideas online and made them ours, helping to personalise the wedding immensely. We didn’t want to add things in just because “a wedding needs to have it”, so we chose carefully and put our creative energy into the specific touches that were most meaningful to us.
Our wedding was outdoors, and we wanted to surprise our parents with a variation on an awesome concept we had seen that incorporated the outdoors. We got frames of varying types, all with an antique styling. We then (secretly!) got scans of photos of our siblings, parents, and grandparents at their own weddings, printed them and packed the frames. We also designed a hand-painted wooden “Family Tree” sign from an artist on Etsy. The tree was set up outside right behind the Badeken location, with photos on each side of the “V” of the tree, representing two families coming together. Our parents were very emotional and amazed upon seeing the Family Tree, and also had an opportunity to talk about the photos during the Badeken.
Hair + Make-up
Michal wanted to look “natural” and like herself for the wedding day, but also wanted a sense of “wow.”
Her hair/makeup artist was recommended to her by SLIC, and during one of our pre-planning visits to Fairmont Scottsdale Princess she scheduled a trial with the talented Sarah Monachos.
Sarah was a total doll and very patient with the fact that Michal really had no idea what she wanted as far as hair and makeup. Best advice I can give is that I highly recommend doing a hair and makeup trial, as well as bringing someone with you that knows you and can take lots of pictures, so you can decide what you want before the big day. During the trial, Michal realised that her desire for her makeup to look natural, made it too simple, and so it gave her time to choose a bolder lipstick and deeper eye makeup; at the same time, the trial confirmed that while she thought an up-do would be more formal and special she knew her husband-to-be would want her to look like the woman he fell in love with that day, with her springy curls.
A Marisa dress
Michal didn’t have her heart set on a particular dress or style, but knew she wanted a dress that was elegant and easy to dance in. She immediately found herself gravitating to dresses with lace, and went to three different bridal shops with her mum that day, while taking photos to send to her best friend (who lives in Minneapolis).
Interestingly enough, it was the very first dress that Michal showed her mum that she ended up going back to buy a few days later, but she didn’t realise it at the time – it was in her best friend’s response to the photo saying this was #1, and looking back at the photos which sold her to go back to the store to re-try it on. Michal purchased the Marisa dress in off-white from Bridal Galleria in San Francisco.
A jewellery gift from the bride’s late grandmother
Michal tried on different veils at Bridal Galleria and liked the more formal, cathedral veil. With her dress being sleeveless, and knowing that the Rabbi would be Orthodox, she also felt as though this would be a more formal and modest covering for the ceremony.
Michal’s Bubbie passed away a few months’ before we were engaged, and had the extreme thoughtfulness and foresight of leaving us a wedding gift (which her mum gave us when we got engaged). Michal immediately knew she wanted to use a portion of the gift to purchase jewelry for our wedding day, so that she could carry a piece of her Bubbie with her that day, not only in her heart. The stunning necklace, bracelet and earrings were all a gift from Michal’s Bubbie, which she proudly wore that day.
Silver Badgley Mischka heels
Michal loves to dance and so the ability to dance in her wedding shoes was a priority. Knowing that our wedding ceremony was going to be on the lawn, Michal also needed to keep that in mind. While Michal was originally searching for a one-shoe solution and was thinking about wedges, she was reminded how heels really make you hold yourself differently when you walk and when you dance, so she swiftly changed her tune and opted for a shoe change – a pair of heels for the ceremony and first dance, and then flats for the remainder of the night.
TOMS were the answer for the flats – and highly recommended. The heels took a bit longer to find the perfect ones – not too high a heel, and ideally something she could wear again —and when she found them, she fell in love: Silver Badgley Mischka heels with crystal beads at the top, and the perfect height heel. She had received great advice about these accessories for heels in the grass for the ceremony (Solemates – they worked like a charm) and also no-slip inserts for dancing. Michal bought the heels in ample time to break them in and practice our first dance (another pro tip).
On the night of the wedding, the heels lasted much longer than expected, and it was only mid-way through the evening, before the Father-Daughter dance that Michal changed into the TOMS. Both shoes were a great success!
The handsome groom
Once we decided on the Lagoon Lawn for our wedding ceremony at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, we quickly realised that a tuxedo didn’t fit with the outdoor venue. In looking through other wedding photos at the venue, we realised we loved the photos of blue suits with brown shoes and so we started the hunt for the perfect navy suit (which turns out took longer for Mike to find than for Michal to find the perfect dress).
Mike is a Software Engineer, so hardly ever dresses up, let alone wears a suit. Thankfully, Michal has an excellent eye for dressing Mike and he knows to trust her in this department. After trying on what felt like every suit in San Francisco, we happened upon the perfect Polo Ralph Lauren navy suit and stunning polka-dot tie, that made Mike look like the most handsome groom. With such a sharp suit, a formal white dress shirt was required, and while Mike’s heart skipped a beat when he saw the price, he soon realised how handsome he looked once they tailored it to him.
Mike had a special tie clip from his dad, a hand-crocheted white kippah from Canaan Gallery in Tzfat (from our trip to Israel), and a tallit Michal purchased for him online for their wedding from the same shop in Israel, once the two were engaged. When the two visited Israel together years earlier and purchased the white kippah, Michal told herself in her head, “I am going to marry you in that kippah someday”, and she did.
One of the best pro tips we received from Michal’s best friend’s husband was to plan on multiple shirt changes for Mike over the course of the night – after the ceremony, after the hora and later in the night. Brilliant. Multiple undershirts and one dress shirt change.
Surrounded by friends and family
Michal had thought a lot about this before we got engaged, and when we did, she reiterated that she wanted to be very mindful not to leave anyone out and she didn’t feel she could do this with bridesmaids without having the bridesmaid and groomsmen count be imbalanced (which she didn’t want), nor did she want her guests to have any added costs beyond the reality already of those associated with our destination wedding.
We ultimately decided that we would have a formal Best Man and a Matron of Honour, as these were so clearly these two individuals, and we wanted to honour them in this way. We told them they could wear whatever they wanted and that we would be honoured if they would walk down the aisle in the processional. While we weren’t doing formal bridesmaids and groomsmen, we both agreed we still wanted to surround ourselves with those closest to us as we prepared for our wedding day. Michal invited her “girls” to the bridal suite the morning of, which was most meaningful, and Mike did the same with his “wedding bros”.
No matching outfits, but we did get matching robes for the girls while they were getting ready that morning (and for fun pics) and Mike designed special superhero flasks made by Fantasticum for the “bros” and also arranged for formal photography with them. At the end of the day, we felt we were able to surround ourselves with those we loved most as we got ready for our big day, and honour these close friends and family, without doing it in a public way that hurt feelings. It was a huge success.
With the beautiful surroundings and landscaping on the Lagoon Lawn at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, we wanted a natural chuppah that was well suited to the setting. Mike had envisioned getting married under trees (though he had originally envisioned redwoods, which aren’t frequently found in Arizona…), so we felt this was a lovely way to incorporate the trees.
We had seen photos of chuppahs from birch tree and a friends’ design at the same venue, which we loved. Months before we were even engaged, we talked about our plan to have our fathers’ tallits serve as the covering for our chuppah, so we could be wed beneath them. We knew that we wanted florals incorporated into the chuppah, but also recognised we couldn’t compete or keep up with the landscaping so we went with a delicate approach with pastel colours that matched the green sprawling lawn setting.
Michal instantly knew which song she would walk down the aisle to. Her father had sung her the Hebrew song Erev Shel Shoshanim every night as a childhood lullaby, and it was clear to them both he would walk her down the aisle someday to this meaningful melody (played by string musicians). Mike was amazed to hear the string musicians’ rendition of Ben Folds’ The Luckiest, an intensely emotional song that reminded him of his formative time living in Australia.
This song, for Mike, talks about meeting the person you are meant to be with, and would add meaning and weight to one of the most singularly important moments of his life; moving forwards with Michal as his bride today and partner in life for always.
For the recessional, we wanted the smashing of the glass to cause the crowd to erupt in joy and cheer “Mazel Tov!” and carry that energy forward into the immediate celebration of our new life together. The string trio played a lively Siman Tov as the guests danced and sent us off to our Yichud room.
A ceremony incorporating many Jewish wedding traditions
While we do not live an Orthodox life, we both grew up with traditional Jewish customs and were very excited about incorporating many Jewish traditions into our wedding. Michal had been to a few Jewish weddings with a Tisch and a Badeken and thought they were beautifully moving customs and a meaningful way to prepare for the chuppah ceremony.
While Mike was initially unfamiliar with these customs, he embraced them and was excited for his Tisch and to veil his bride. The image of the men dancing my groom to me is one of the most vivid and moving moments of our wedding day, with the sea of men and the violinist escorting them playing Od Yishama.
Michal walked down the aisle to the string trio playing Erev Shel Shoshanim – the song her father sang to her each night, as a child. We had decided to face our guests for the chuppah ceremony, to truly be surrounded by our loved ones and this was one of my favorite decisions that we made as it felt very personal, intimate and inclusive. We utilised the Sheva Brachot as a way to honour many of our family and friends, as the Rabbi invited them up to bless us.
Mike’s favourite part of the ceremony was smashing the glass – it was a moment he had been dreaming of his entire life.
A personalised ketubah
Michal learned about the art of paper cutting in 2001, and since then always envisioned a paper cut ketubah for her wedding. We were fortunate to find an incredibly talented artist, Noa Attias – based in Israel – who worked with us to create a stunning ketubah that was personalised with key elements for us (kohanim hands, trees, lovebirds, etc.), with our favourite colours as the background. Our family from Israel hand-delivered the large ketubah to our wedding (though Noa Attias does ship), and it now hangs on our wall as breathtaking art that is a cherished memory of one of the best moments of our lives.
Flowers with a natural feel
By practicality, rather than for sentimental reasons, we found ourselves getting married on Sunday 14th February 2016 — Valentine’s Day. Since this wasn’t an intentional plan – but rather the date worked brilliantly for a host of reasons – and we very intentionally steered clear of florals that were reminiscent of Valentine’s Day (i.e. no red roses).This was an aesthetic choice, that also turned out to be a good cost saving measure, too.
We didn’t have a definitive idea of what we wanted in advance for florals, just that we wanted a “natural” feel. Michal searched high and low online but didn’t find any bouquets that she really loved… until just the right one came across her eyes. She loved the lighter pastel colours and the “depth” of the bouquet achieved by taking advantage of varying height, colours, and textures of the floral arrangement. This bouquet also had a Protea in it, which Mike loved at first look. Mike’s parents are from South Africa, and the Protea is a well-known South African flower. When the bouquet was delivered to Michal’s bridal suite the morning of the wedding – with Mike’s Mom seeing it for the first time and noticing her protea – she looked at Michal with a huge grin and glistening look and said,”I promised Michael I wouldn’t cry.” The hand-tied bouquet comprised of Peach Garden Roses, Medium Pink Peonies, Pink Protea, White Dahlias and White Aneomie, wrapped in off-white ribbon Michal had purchased at a fabric store to match her wedding gown.
For the Boutonnieres, for the Groom and Fathers, we had originally considered a more unusual calla lily, but felt it was a bit too overpowering. After much thought we decided to go classic and elegant look – a Peach rose with loop of Bear Grass, which worked like a charm with both a Blue and a Black suit. For the Mums, we went with Spray Roses on a lovely wrist corsage.
For the Chuppah, we loved the birch tree look and didn’t want the flowers to overwhelm. We saw some examples of similar pastel colours (likely on Smashing The Glass!) on some other birch chuppahs and we felt it achieved the goal of fitting into the outdoor setting. Mike chuckled as he felt that that hanging greenery on Chuppahs resembled the tzitzit on the Tallis, so we increased the greenery to try to hint at this: using Hanging Amaranthus, Pittosporum, Tree Fern, Boston Ferns and other greenery to match. Long greenery also flows beautifully in the wind. The flowers on the chuppah weren’t exactly the same as the Bouquet, but similar. We decided on Purple Roses, White Oriental Lilies, Peach Roses, and Hydrangea.
For the tables, we had considered a few very large floral centerpieces mixed with smaller ones, but felt the warmth of floating candlescapes was more intimate feel. We also wanted guests to be able to freely talk and be in each other’s close company during the reception, so we shied away from large centerpieces that tend to be in guests’ sightlines. We had a multi-tiered candlescape, some floating candles and some pillars, in ivory colour. This paired well with simple white florals, and hand-painted walnut wood table signs we purchased on Etsy.
Jan Theodore from Fabulous Floral Design in Scottsdale, Arizona was a pleasure to work with, offered us fantastic advice, and handled the centerpieces, chuppah, all florals, and even organised our candy bar containers!
Our fabulous Photographer…
Mike works in Visual Effects for Film, and as such, photography was one of the top priorities for him. He works with several professional photographers, evaluates artwork every day for a living, and had very high expectations for the artist we would select to capture one of the most significant events of our lifetime.
The process for selecting a photographer was detailed, meticulous and lengthy. We started with recommendations from the venue, and ended up doing a detailed comparison of our shortlist.
In terms of cost, a mediocre wedding photographer can be the priced in the same ballpark as a great (or even an excellent) photographer. The added value in picking an excellent one is a big difference, and we highly recommend choosing a photographer with great care.
Here are a few tips we want to share from our experience:
It’s more than just portraits. A Wedding Photographer must be excellent also at landscapes, action-shots, wide-angle, creative and artistic, documentary, daylight, indoor, and nighttime. Perhaps as important is how you “mesh” with the photographer and a positive personality: patient with long hours, and friendly and helpful to family members (and if relevant, good with kids).
Look at more than just the select highlights. Evaluate Full Galleries. When evaluating Photographers, ask for “Full Gallery” so you can see how they capture the full event. “When they missed a shot by a split second, did they still capture the emotion of the moment?”, “What is their artistic style?”, “Are they more ‘Documentary-style’ or do they give every shot a bit of an artistic ‘twist’?” “Will they get shots that no one else will?” When we asked Trevor, “how do you capture a Hora?”, he chuckled and said, “You gotta get right in there”. You want a photographer who is “all-in” for the once-in-a-lifetime events of the evening, giving it everything they’ve got.
Walk the venue with your photographer before the event! It’s a wonderful way to identify the backdrops you don’t want to miss, and can help in choosing first look locations and so forth.
If you can afford it, hire a professional photographer and not a friend. It’s a different experience to have someone whose sole job is to capture the event and isn’t distracted by being a part of it.
If you don’t want to walk down to a sea of cell phones, plan in advance! We created a tasteful posterboard sign on Etsy to ask guests not to use cameras or cell phones during the ceremony and that worked like a charm. We were thrilled to walk down the aisle to our faces of family and friends, and not their phones!
Consider using your photos as part of your future thank you cards. We got a fun “Thank You” sign on Etsy (with the Hebrew “Todah Raba”) on the other side, and took a few snapshots with these signs during our couple photos, and included them in our thank-you cards.
If you can afford it, hire a professional photographer and not a friend. It’s a different experience to have someone whose sole job is to capture the event and isn’t distracted by being a part of it.
We had lofty expectations for our wedding photographer, and Trevor Dayley Photography’s willingness and openness to take some artistic requests was greatly appreciated. This allowed Mike to fully relax on the big day, trusting in Trevor’s artistic skill and ability to capture everything we had hoped for, and more. The results are astounding and we couldn’t be happier!
We were particularly impressed Trevor’s range, his ability to capture an up-close and emotional first look between the bride and groom, and his exceptional nighttime/sunset photography, as well as his great artistic eye for capturing a picture you’d never imagine (eg. our feet in the air on the dance floor).
We discussed the videography aspect for some time, but ultimately decided to capture the video, as well, and we’re very happy we did. Many friends who did not hire videographers had told us later it one one of their greatest regrets, and we didn’t want to be short-sighted. One day we will be very happy to have speeches of our loved ones on video to listen to on repeat, which photos cannot capture.
Mike was far more wedded to the importance of the photography – which he felt captured moments, feelings, spirit and energy – and was worried about the risk of “crossfire”, with having the videographer in photos and vice versa. We asked our photographer to recommend a videographer he worked well with, and reiterated the concern of having crossfire ruin a shot.
We hired a videographer, Andrew John Belcher, (one for the whole afternoon/evening and a 2nd for the ceremony only to capture an alternate angle) about six weeks before the wedding, to capture the ceremony and evening primarily for Mike’s elderly Grandmother who was unable to travel from South Africa to be with us, and for our future recording of this momentous event in our lives.
When considering options for video, knowing this was a lesser priority for us, we went with the simplest option rather than the fully edited wedding video. The videographer was willing to deliver us the raw video, with audio overlay, and with Mike’s expertise and talent circle, we decided we would leave the editing of a highlight and full video to ourselves later as a creative side-project (which we hope to have completed by our 1-year anniversary).
We received the raw video footage within a week of the wedding and were able to get it sent off to Mike’s grandma in South Africa to see – a total success and she was thrilled!
A classic wedding cake
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess had a wonderful pastry chef we could meet with to design our cake. We briefly considered having an elaborate themed cake, but ultimately decided to go with a classic tiered cake. With Mike being a chocolate lover and Michal more a vanilla girl, we were thrilled to learn during the cake tasting that we could have both! Our cake had two tiers of chocolate with hazelnut Nutella filling and two tiers of vanilla with lemon filling with fresh berries.
We ended up with a classic white buttercream frosting for the outside, with a fondant ribbon and flowers. Simple but classy as this wasn’t a major focal point for us and we were both more excited about the candy bar (though the cake was delicious and we both enjoyed a slice of both – and had an extra slice of each sent to our suite to devour after the party – yum!)
Michal is an avid Israeli dancer, and Mike likes to “cut it up” to music with “dirty beats”, so Michal thought a few dance lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio would help us be on the same page for our first dance. To choose the song was surprisingly simple. A year or so before Mike proposed, Mike and Michal were at home on a Saturday morning. Mike was making Michal breakfast, while Michal was doing a few things around the house. We had Google Play Music shuffling through random music and a song came on which stopped us both in our tracks – First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes. We dropped whatever we were doing and started dancing in the living room, in an emotional embrace that could have lasted forever. Mike plays guitar and has recorded Michal a cover song for each of their anniversaries. For 2015, he surprised her with a recording of himself playing First Day of My Life.
For the cake cutting, we chose a favourite of ours, Ingrid Michaelson’s beautiful rendition of Can’t Help Falling in Love. As the night progressed, it felt as if the timing was dragging a bit, and Mike had caught the faintest glimmer of stress in the eyes of our world-class wedding coordinator, Meren.
We were never really heartset on cake cutting tradition, and had intentionally prioritised more speeches from family members. But we also felt like it was time to get everyone out on the dance floor. To help with the evening flow we threw out the idea to Meren, “Hey, why don’t we just ditch the cake cutting?” She smiled and said we could if we didn’t mind. We did a swift and sneaky cake cutting off to the side, and also ditched the song unintentionally. The live band turned up the energy and everyone was soon on the dance floor.
Not much later, the band surprised us with their unequivocally best song of the evening, a live version of Can’t Help Falling in Love. The singer just belted out the chorus, all our guests and us singing along at the top of our lungs, in a big camp-like circle. It was one of the best moments of the night. This was a great lesson for marriage – sometimes, you just have to go with the flow, and you will find things have a way of working out even better than you could have ever imagined.
Michal always envisioned walking down the aisle to string music, as she felt it created a beautiful mood for the ceremony. We also learned that this option is reasonably priced and you can select various formats – trios, quartets, etc based on what you are looking for and the songs you are looking to have played. We landed on a trio and it was a superb fit!
It added a wonderful elegance and a formal spirit to the ceremony after the excitement of the Tisch and Bedeken. We had considered the option of just a Violin duet or Violin-Viola duet but were much happier with the Trio (which was Violin, Viola and Cello). The Cello added more depth to the sound and the arrangements were more moving because of that. We had the String Trio play as guests took their seats at the ceremony, for the processional and for the recessional – this music was mostly Jewish tunes. We also had them play at the Cocktail Hour, where they played more contemporary songs like Coldplay, and themes from Pixar movies.
For the main reception entertainment, we considered a DJ versus a live band. Once we went to see a few showcases of live wedding bands, it quickly became clear the energy was through the roof comparatively. We loved that a live band felt like more of a concert/entertainment evening, and it definitely made you want to get out on the dance floor, which is something we wholeheartedly wanted to encourage, along with multi-generational music that got everyone up and kept all guests dancing all night long.
After deciding we wanted a band, we flew to Arizona to see a few of the bands playing live events. Choosing the size of the band was also a question, and we opted for a 7-piece in the end: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keyboard, Singer (male), Singer (female), Saxophone/Clarinet. To have a band that could play a combo of Jewish music as well as knockout modern hits was a tough combination to find, especially in Scottsdale, Arizona (not a specifically large Jewish population). We wanted the band to be able to play a lively and exciting (and long!) horah, and to sing it as well in Hebrew. We also were keen for some Ray LaMontagne (jazzy, folk pop), and songs from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’
Michal’s parents also wanted live Hebrew music with lyrics, a.k.a a Hebrew singer. After much searching in the Arizona community turned up nothing, we brought our own! Michal’s childhood friend’s mother is also a professional Hebrew singer, so that sure was convenient! She generously offered to sing a selection of Hebrew songs for us, and communicated with the band in advance. The band agreed to this complicated request, and did a rehearsal during the cocktail hour. This required extra effort, but was a huge success and highlight of the night, which packed the dance floor.
A good lesson for us with the band was the realisation that they know their repertoire, and how to work the crowd, and relied more on their expertise than our personal requests. They were wonderful about asking about genres, do not plays and priorities (like our request to keep it multi-generational and not too loud). They did a phenomenal job and had rave reviews, and the dance floor was packed until it was time for our sparkler exit. They hit our “must-plays” and avoided our “do-not-plays” but otherwise did what they were best at and avoided our overly long recommendation list. We had heard this before, so we knew what to expect, even though in the process we sent them a very long recommended personalised songlist. True to form: our guests all raved about the band, and the dance floor was full ALL evening, just like we were hoping it would be.
Knowing that our wedding was a family event, and we were expecting twenty-plus kids (mostly under the age of 6), we decided to hire kids’ entertainment for part of the evening. In the spirit of our wedding being most welcoming and hospitable for the little ones and their parents we asked the venue to plate the kids’ food as soon as guests entered the hall and hired kids’ entertainment for the first 90 minutes immediately following this.
Storybook Entertainment did a wonderful job of an hour-and-a-half of face painting, games and more, in an adjacent room, and hosted by Princess Elsa and Spiderman characters. Parents were thrilled to have a great option for the kids after they finished eating, so that the parents could quietly enjoy their own meal and hear the speeches. It worked pretty flawlessly, both parents and children getting to enjoy moments meaningful to them concurrently. The best part? Some of our late-night dancing photos have kids in them with Spider-Man facepaint on!
“You can have a Candy Bar at a wedding?!” Mike was very surprised and overjoyed at the possibility of this after Michal suggested it. We even heavily personalised the candy bar choices. The most obvious personalization, given our names (Mike and Michal) was M&M’s — we had both personalised M&M’s candies provided to us by a close family friend, as well as M&M’s ceramic candy dishes. We also added in candies that had specific meaning: Mike chose some gummies like Fuzzy Peaches and Fuzzy Watermelons that he and the Best Man, Matthew, used to eat (in droves!) during childhood sleepovers together. Michal chose Andes Mint Chocolates, a favourite of her late Bubbie.
Personalised welcome bags
We had some great late-night Photoshop sessions together in advance of the wedding. We secured a Welcome Bag screenprinting company early-on, but were not successful in finding pre-existing designs that we liked. In those cases, we ended up generally taking inspiration from online sources and creating our own. The Welcome Bag design was a series of images of silhouettes that represent us, our interests, our favourite activities. It was a great favour and practical item for guests to use by the pool, and helped them identify each other around the resort!
With all of our guests being out-of-towners, we were excited about the idea of creating welcome bags for them all to be delivered upon arrival. We compiled a list of fun Arizona local goodies – like Arizona Iced Tea and local Fairytale Brownies – and then all the practical things guests might not have packed like sunscreen, Shout wipes, tissues and more.
We thought it would be fun for all of our guests to tote around matching bags so they could identify each other around the resort leading up to the wedding, and thought it would also be a lovely and practical favor to gift everyone with canvas bags for the pools. We spent an evening designing a collage of our favorite things and worked with Liquid Screen Design to get them screen printed on canvas bags and shipped to Arizona. We enclosed handwritten notes to all of our guests in them, to be delivered on arrival at the hotel, and ordered little labels saying “From the future Mr. & Mrs.” on them, which were labeled with guest names and colour coded by arrival date to be distributed at the front desk at check-in. Amidst the many contents of the bags were customised M&M’s that were gifted to us, as well as delicious honey jars for which we designed labels that explained the Jewish tradition of dipping challah in Nectar honey for Shabbat for the first year of marriage.
Jewish Wedding 101 Inserts
For the itineraries, we designed different versions for guests who were arriving later, or for family members that were invited to the Friday night welcome dinner. This was also more easily done on our own in Photoshop than working with a designer as we needed so many variations. We made the “full” schedule first, with all the events, and organized the spacing on the card based on the “full” list. Then, we paired down the itinerary using Photoshop layers and shuffled/re-spaced each variant list. To print these, we bought 5×7 cardstock at a local card shop and did a simple print with our Inkjet printer. (A tip: When printing cardstock at home, feed the cards through the printer’s rear tray rather than where the paper usually goes underneath the printer. This allows the cardstock to feed straight through the printer without getting bent).
As mentioned, we had non-Jewish guests attending the wedding, and wanted to ensure they were comfortable and not nervous about any of the traditions. For instance, Mike had several of his friends ask in advance about Kippahs, worried if it was appropriate for them to wear one of the ones we were providing. To help alleviate any unnecessary stress, we created a welcome bag insert card entitled “Everything I need to know about Jewish weddings I learned in this welcome bag insert” (working title was “Jewish Weddings 101”!). We included these cards only in welcome bags of guests who wouldn’t already be aware of all the details.
Travel Advice guestbook cards
We decided against a standard guestbook. We had considered a travel theme for the wedding at one point and thrown around a few ideas related to it (such as having a guestbook “globe” for people to sign). But, deciding that we didn’t want to overly theme the wedding and also that we wanted a bit more than our guests’ signatures, we decided to go with Honeymoon Travel Recommendation cards instead, using the “guestbook” concept as a way to garner travel advice from our worldly guests.
We got a mini-suitcase to hold the cards at the Cocktail Hour, and printed travel advice cards on Becky Higgins ‘Project Life’ notecards. Rather than buy the cards directly, you can buy blank cards and the card designs as image files. We then edited the card designs in Photoshop and personalised them further, as well as decided which designs we wanted to pair on the front-and-back of the cards. The result was a pile of great travel recommendations for our honeymoon later this year!
“I got you an Arizona sunset”
Mike was very keen to get married in a California Redwood tree grove, in the state that we have called home for the past ten years. Throughout the planning process, it became clear that the best choice for the wedding was our amazing choice of venue in Scottsdale, Arizona. Landscape-wise, Arizona is vastly different from Northern California, but nature delivered in spades and rewarded us grandly for our selection!
The wedding weekend was beautiful, with weather at 28 degrees celsius and sunny every day. On the day of the wedding, the temperature dropped slightly to 25 and it was cloudy for the ceremony. Michal was a little worried, hoping the weather would “still be nice”, as Mike assured her that the “these clouds would shield the guests from sun during the ceremony, and hopefully make for a nice sunset.”
That turned out to be the understatement of the century. The clouds hung around just long enough to help ensure our guests were comfortable and not overheated during the outdoor ceremony. Nearing the end of the ceremony, as our honourees started the Sheva Brachot, the sun came beaming out of the clouds, lighting us up in the Chuppah with a glow that was otherworldly. It was a breathtaking sign of support for our marriage, like a big, grand “thumbs-up”!
As we headed off to take couple sunset photos, and our guests moved to the outdoor cocktail hour location, we looked up at the sky to see the most magnificent sunset we had ever seen. Michal grinned as we took photos with this absolutely majestic backdrop, “There’s no California Redwoods, but I got you an Arizona Sunset!” She sure did, and it was even more amazing than either of us could have imagined.
Advice to brides and grooms currently planning their wedding
Know what is important to you
Ask what is important to each set of parents (before you start planning)!
Take breaks, especially if planning in a shorter time period. Learn when you’ve done enough in one sitting, and when to pause the planning and go out on a date!
It’s easy to overdo every detail, so remind yourself often what is most important!
Work your tails off, work with everything you’ve got in advance. Do it all until the day or two (or three) before everything starts. Then… just coast into it, turn off the many months of “planning engines”, and let it happen. Whatever isn’t done won’t happen at that point, and that’s okay. Letting go before it all starts and being fully present is very important to having the wedding and surrounding events be memorable and joyous. Plan in advance. The day of is only for enjoyment.
Take time during the event to soak up the love and joy and beauty of this once-in-a-lifetime event. The time in the Yichud room – after the ceremony and before the reception – was particularly valuable for this purpose.
Michal & Mike’s little white book
Photography — Trevor Dayley Photography
Videography — Andrew John Belcher
Venue, catering and cake — Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Day-Of Wedding Coordinator — Meren Dehaze, Some Like It Classic
Bride’s dress — Marisa from Bridal Galleria in San Francisco
Bride’s shoes — Badgley Mischka high heels, TOMS flats and Solemates
Bride’s Jewelry — by Nadri
Groom’s attire — suit & tie by Ralph Lauren, shirt by Eton, undershirts by Tommy John, shoes by Cole Haan, socks by Happy Socks, tie clip (gift) from Mike’s father’s Bar-Mitzvah
Groom’s Tallit and Kippah — Canaan Gallery, Tzfat, Israel
Hair and Makeup — Sarah Monachos
Florals & Chuppah — Jan Theodore, Fabulous Floral Design
Ceremony/Cocktail Hour Music — String Trio, Sweetwater Strings
Live Band — Lucky Devils Band
Invitations & Ceremony Programs — Judy of Itcoa
Ketubah Custom Design & Papercutting — Noa Attias
Badeken Chairs — Prim Unique Rentals
Dance Lessons — Christina Mullen, Arthur Murray Dance Studio, San Francisco
Kids Entertainment — Storybook Entertainment AZ
Lighting — Karma Event Lighting
Candy Bar — Candy by Nuts.com & Candystore.com, Signage by deSignsOfExpression
Guestbook — Becky Higgins ‘Project Life’ notecards
Gifts — Robes by Gentle Sateen, Custom Superhero Flasks by Fantasticum
Welcome Bag Screenprinting — Liquid Screen Design
Wedding Favour — PDX Nectar small batch raw honey
Rehearsal Dinner — Cantina Laredo, Scottsdale, Arizona
Erika Brady says
Thank you for sharing the story of purchasing the white kippah. I know my daughter wants her husband to get married in one of those as well some day. They are beautiful, and I I think white would look great.